Just look at thiswonderful painting title “Oath of the Horatii” (1784) (129.8 in × 167.
2 in) (DeNanteuil, 1966). It was painted in the late 18th century by a Frenchartist named Jacques-Louis David and is currently located at Louvre Museum,Paris. Originally, however, it was painted in the great city of Rome. So, it isobvious that the subject is based on a Roman legend.
Once there were two citiesat war with each other Rome and Alba Longa. Instead of exposing many to deathit was agreed upon that three men from each city belonging to two families,would fight and decide the issue. From Rome came forward three brothers fromthe Horatii family. However, in Paris today, such legends hold little meaning.For the audience of Paris, this form of art belonged to the Neo-classicalperiod when the mood was on simplicity and symmetry. The oath incident was notthere in the legend as such but the painter has emphasized it to uphold andhighlight the values of that period.However, the impact ofthe painting in Rome at the time in which it was made on the content of a workof art was great.
The painting underpins the act of making a promise. The threebrothers promised to their father victory for Rome even if it meant death; itwas a do or die moment. This sternness has been underlined by the straightlines of brothers in a row with their arms outstretched in a line. The swordshowever are not all straight indicating that all would not survive the ordeal.The father is no less determined in the manner in which he is handing over theswords to his sons knowing that they would be courting death. From the paintingyou can understand how much they valued patriotism, loyalty and promises. Thestraight lines of the men effuse strength. Emotion displayed by the women canbe contrasted with the grim determination of the men.
The painting talks aboutideals and principles – it instantly hits the viewer. Does it not?The visualcharacteristics of the painting are wonderful. The color effect is awesome. Forinstance red is splashed on the robe of the father and the son who is n theforeground. Red can be taken to represent both bloodshed and victory. One ofthe three brothers survives the ordeal and the painter indicates the soldier infront. The father courts death for his sons for the sake of the country.
Thecolours of the robes of the other two brothers are muted and hardly noticeable.The second brother’s arm is around the waist of the first one indicating theirunity and oneness – three for one and one for three. The third women in thebackground is all in black as she is suffering the most living up to theimmediate crisis while tending to innocent lively children. The painter,Jacques-Louis David (1748 –1825) was French by nationality and most of hisworks are in the style of Neoclassical (De Nanteuil, 1966). He is one of themost influential painters of the period. The influence of the painting has beenstrengthened through contrast. Notice that the background is dark and obscureso that the attention of the viewer is focused on the front of the painting.
One side are the determined men and on the other weeping women. Then the darkbackground highlights the frontal section. The straightness of the men becomemore prominent when contrasted with the bent form of the women. The walls andslabs on the floor are straight. The children add to the differences betweenthe ages and the involvement of adults in serious matters. Also note the playon number three – three brothers, three swords, three arms and the threewomen. The overlapping of the swords also contrasts with sharpness infront and gives the effect of movement in a frozen frame.
The men seemedstoical while the women are resigned. Two orders are superimposed upon – thefigures and the décor.